Ardnamurchan (//, Scottish Gaelic: Àird nam Murchan: headland of the great seas) is a 50-square-mile (130 km2) peninsula in the ward management area of Lochaber, Highland, Scotland, noted for being very unspoilt and undisturbed. Its remoteness is accentuated by the main access route being a single track road for much of its length. The most westerly point of mainland Great Britain, Corrachadh Mòr, is in Ardnamurchan.
Strictly speaking, Ardnamurchan covers only the peninsula beyond the villages of Salen (in the south) and Acharacle (in the north), but nowadays the term is also used more generally to include the neighbouring districts of Sunart, Ardgour, Morvern, and even Moidart (which was part of the former county of Inverness-shire, not Argyll).
Ardnamurchan Point, which has a 36-metre (118 ft) tall lighthouse built on it, is commonly described as the most westerly point of the British mainland although Corrachadh Mòr, a kilometre to the south, is a few metres further west.
The north western corner of Ardnamurchan consists of a lopolith (previously interpreted as a ring dyke) that has been exposed at the surface. Evidence for such a structure can be identified from the phenocrysts in the rock exposures around the area of interest which show plagioclase crystals aligned towards the centre of the complex, an alignment caused by magmatic flow within a lopolith. Relatively small areas of lava that were ejected onto the surface are found in some parts of the peninsula, close in proximity to the inner edges of the area of interest. The sub-concentric rings of the geologic structure can easily be seen in satellite photographs and topographic maps, though they are less obvious on the ground. At least seven other similar complexes of the same tectonic episode exist along the west coast of Britain, and these are popular sites for many university geological training courses.
Adomnan of Iona records St Columba visiting the peninsula in the 6th century, and gives the impression that it was settled by Irish Gaels at that time. He records three instances of signs performed by Columba on the peninsula.
Adomnan records in one instance that Columba prophesied to his companions the death of Kings Báetán mac Muirchertaig and Eochaid mac Domnaill before news arrived the same day at a place called 'paradise bay' to tell them the news. In the second instance, which is said to have occurred in an unnamed rocky spot in the interior, the parents of a boy brought their child to Columba to be baptized but no water could be found, and Columba prayed to God and water miraculously came out of a nearby rock and he prophesied that the child would live a sinful life and later be a saint.
In the third instance, which took place at a spot Adomnan called 'Sharp bay', there was a wicked man named Ioan mac Conaill maic Domnaill who was related to the Cenél nGabraín, and this man attacked Columba's friend and plundered his goods. Columba met this wicked man and called on him to repent, but he didn't listen and instead boarded his boat with the stolen goods. Columba then followed the boat, wading into the water up to his knees and prayed to God. He then prophesied to his companions that this man and his boat were going to meet with disaster on the sea, and according to Adomnan, the boat was sunk before reaching land with Ioan drowning at sea along with his stolen goods.
Donaldson identifies "Buarblaig" (now referred to as Bourblaige, about 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Kilchoan on the other side of Ben Hiant, grid reference ) with Muribulg, where the Annals of Tigernach record a battle between the Picts and the Dalriads in 731. It may also be the 'Muirbole Paradisi' mentioned by Adomnán. Although its stone foundations still remain, the village of Bourblaige no longer exists, as it was destroyed in the Highland Clearances in the early 19th century.
According to early twentieth-century tradition in Ardnamurchan, two battles were fought in the bays between Gortenfern (grid reference ) and Sgeir a' Chaolais (grid reference ). Archaeological finds in the vicinity of Cul na Croise (grid reference )—a bay between Sgeir a Chaolais and Sgeir nam Meann—consist of spears, daggers, arrow-heads, and a coin dating to the reign of Edward I, King of England. These artefacts could indicate that Cul na Croise was the site of conflict fought in the context of the strife between Edward I's representative, Alasdair Óg Mac Domhnaill, and the Clann Ruaidhrí brothers, Lachlann Mac Ruaidhrí and Ruaidhrí Mac Ruaidhrí. According to tradition, one of the battles fought in the area concerned a certain "Red Rover", and another fought nearby concerned an Irishman named "Duing" or "Dewing". Relics of a Viking ship burial in Cul na Croise have been given to the West Highland Museum at Fort William.
In 2011, a Viking ship burial, probably from the 10th century, was unearthed at Port an Eilean Mhòir on Ardnamurchan. Grave goods buried alongside a Viking warrior found in the boat suggest he was a high-ranking warrior. The Ardnamurchan Viking was found buried with an axe, a sword with a decorated hilt, a spear, a shield boss and a bronze ring pin. Other finds in the 5 metres (16 feet) long grave in Ardnamurchan included a knife, what could be the tip of a bronze drinking horn, a whetstone from Norway, a ring pin from Ireland and Viking Age pottery.
Villages in Ardnamurchan:
- Acharacle (Àth Tharracail)
- Achnaha (Achadh na h-Àtha)
- Glenborrodale (Gleann Bhorghdail)
- Kilchoan (Cille Chòmhghain)
- Kilmory (Cill Mhóire)
- Laga (Làga)
- Ockle (Ocal)
- Portuairk (Port Uairce)
- Salen (An t-Sàilean)
- Sanna (Sanna)
Ardnamurchan has the highest concentrations of Gaelic speakers on the mainland, with 19.3% able to speak the language.
The peninsula has had a number of local Gaelic poets of some note, including Dr John MacLachlan, the author of Dìreadh a-mach ri Beinn Shianta, a poem on the Ardnamurchan Clearances unusual for its outspoken criticism of the landlords. The poem influenced Somhairle MacGill-Eain, who wrote a poem to its author. Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair was a schoolmaster in the area.
Fauna and scenery
Ardnamurchan is wild and unspoilt. Ardnamurchan Point, adjacent to the most westerly point on the British mainland, has a lighthouse and a view from a sheer rock face of the open Atlantic Ocean. The norther part of Ardnamurchan forms part of the Morar, Moidart and Ardnamurchan National Scenic Area, one of 40 such areas in Scotland, which are defined so as to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to ensure its protection by restricting certain forms of development.
- The geologist Donald Duff FRSE (1927–98) bought a house there after surveying the area in the 1950s.
- The button box accordion player, Fergie MacDonald is from the area.
- The preacher J. Douglas MacMillan came form Ardnamurchan.
Notes and references
- B. O'Driscoll, V.R. Troll, R.J. Reavy and P. Turner; 2005, The Great Eucrite intrusion of Ardnamurchan, Scotland: Reevaluating the ring-dike concept, Geology, v. 34 no. 3 p. 189-192
- Adomnan of Iona. Life of St Columba. (trans. by Richard Sharpe) Penguin books, 1995
- Donaldson, M.E.M. (1923). Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands: Recounting Highland & Clan History, Traditions, Ecclesiology, Archaeology, Romance, Literature, Humour, Folk-Lore, Etc (2nd rev. ed.). Paisley: A. Gardner. OCLC 858596051.
- "Site Record for Ardnamurchan, Bourblaige". Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
- "Ardnamurchan, Bourblaige". ScotlandsPlaces. Archived from the original on 2012-09-08. Retrieved 2011-06-16.
- Lethbridge, TC (1924–1925). "Battle Site in Gorten Bay, Kentra, Ardnamurchan" (PDF). Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 59: 105–113. doi: – via Archaeology Data Service.
- "Site Record for Ardnamurchan, Gortenfern, Sgeir A' Chaolais; Gorten Bay". Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
The bays of Cul na Croise and Camas an Lighe are in grid reference ..
- "Ardnamurchan Viking boat burial discovery 'a first'". BBC News Highlands & Islands. 19 October 2011. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- McGeachy, Robert. Argyll, 1730-1850: Commerce, Community and Culture. John Donald. p. 264. ISBN 9780859766203. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
- An Dotair MacLachlainn. "Somhairle MacGill-Eain Air-loidhne". www.sorleymaclean.org. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
- "National Scenic Areas - Maps". SNH. 2010-12-20. Retrieved 2018-05-14.
- "National Scenic Areas". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 2018-05-14.